Reposted from impact.science.oregonstate.edu

A senior’s gut decision in high school to major in physics holds steady four years later

Looking back on his gut decision in high school to major in physics after taking a class in it, graduating senior Abe Teklu remains somewhat mystified. “I guess I was just really confident,” he laughs.
Abe grew up around numbers and changing locations, moving from Ethiopia to Arizona at age six when his father got an engineering job at Intel, and then moving to Colorado before his family settled outside of Portland when he was 12.
His family is mathematically inclined. His mom is an accountant and his dad, who not so secretly yearned to be a mathematician, is an engineer who reads calculus books and earned a master’s degree in fluid dynamics. This home field advantage explains some of Abe’s youthful confidence (he “loved math” even as a child) but since then Abe has carried the ball all on his own.
At Oregon State as an Honors physics student, Abe has remained confident – at least most of the time – as well as comfortable with numbers and shifting contexts. He has had three research internships. The first was the summer after his sophomore year when he had a paid internship at Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) in Evanston, Illinois, in a rather niche but fascinating area of speculative research called astrobiology. There Abe analyzed mathematical models of theoretical predator-prey systems not limited to planet Earth.
The summer before his junior year, Abe headed down to San Diego for another paid internship, this time at the U.S. Department of Energy’s DIII-D National Fusion Facility. The facilty consists of a tokamak, a magnetic fusion device which Abe describes as “a big metal donut spinning plasma to get fusion energy.” Abe used magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) theory to model plasma confinement, with the goal of understanding which conditions better spread heat flux in the divertor region.
In his third research experience, Abe spent more than two years working in physics department head Heidi Schellman’s Particle Physics Research Group, analyzing neutrino-antineutrino data as part of the MINERvA, a major international research effort exploring matter-antimatter differences in neutrino physics. This involved aiming a beam of neutrinos from Illinois to South Dakota. Specifically, Abe worked on the recoil energies recorded when the rare neutrino-antineutrino reactions hit parallel strips of the scintillator, each of which is connected to a photomultiplier tube that determines how much energy is deposited in a strip.
Abe’s research experiences beyond the classroom gave him many advantages. For one, the DIII-D fusion internship formed the basis for his senior thesis. He also learned valuable lessons about the nature of scientific work.
“Unlike class, where there is always an answer, research is open-ended. It was difficult for me at first, but I came to appreciate that even if you don’t solve a problem, you are contributing to a much larger research effort with scientists around the world that will one day lead to a solution.”
Throughout his four years at OSU, community and relationships were key to Abe’s success, a sentiment reflected in his two top pieces of advice for new students.
“Have as much fun as you can freshman year. Talk toeveryone. You will have the most free time this year and so it’s a great time to meet new people and make friends. It gets harder after that.”
As an Honors College freshman, Abe enjoyed meeting friends in his dorm, Cauthorne, and also hung out in West so often that he was mistaken as a resident. He was and is “surprised by the amount of really smart people here. So many amazing people – and it’s so cool now to see all of my friends going off to exciting new destinations next year, from MIT to Brown to AI research!”
His second piece of advice?
“Talk to professors. Go to office hours. Not just to talk about academics, but just to talk about life. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Some of his favorite professors to hang out with are physicists Corinne Monogue, who he calls a “great teacher and person to talk to about anything at all” and Heidi Schellman. Abe suggests another good reason to talk with professors:  It’s a “great way to start research sooner.”
To wit, when Abe visited to Schellman during her office hours, she began describing her research and Abe just jumped in and asked if he could help.
“That day she gave me a key to her lab and I started doing research!” Two years later, Abe still has a coveted seat in Schellman’s Lab and is currently mentoring a new student to take his place after graduation.
Despite his success at OSU, Abe has faced his share of rejection and challenging times. Before joining the Schellman Lab, he was turned down as a freshman for research positions. The fall of his senior year was a really difficult time. After an intense summer working at the fusion facility DIII-D in San Diego, he returned to campus for a nonstop term which on top of his usual demanding coursework included studying for the Physics GRE, applying to graduate schools, writing his senior thesis and dealing with the inevitable “personal stuff.”
“I was overwhelmed and my confidence was shaken. Was I good enough? I had imposter syndrome. The only thing that got me out of it,” Abe reflects, “was just to endure. I just kept going step by step, every single day. I had to keep going and I did and it finally got better.”
It certainly did. Abe was accepted into the physics Ph.D. program at Stonybrook University in Long Island, New York, remarking with great enthusiasm upon the fact that there are no less than “60-70 physics researchers there!” Not wasting any time, he will jumpstart his graduate research this summer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, working on a yet-to-be-defined research project with his graduate advisor.
Abe is grateful for the science education he has received at Oregon State and was not surprised when he heard that the Department of Physics recently received a national award for improving undergraduate physics education.
“All of my professors were great,” he said. The junior-year Paradigms in Physics series in particular, which was redesigned to include interactive pedagogies and real-world applications to better reflect how professional physicists think, was a real game-changer for Abe.
“[The junior-year Paradigms in Physics] was hard, but it was great and everyone in the class bonded together. We came out feeling that we could do anything!”
Abe’s gratitude extends to the many scholarships he received that helped cement his choice to go to Oregon State. He received the university’s four-year Academic Achievement award as well as a freshman year Honors College scholarship, a Kenneth S. Krane Scholarship in Physics and a David B. Nicodemus Scholarship in Physics.

The PhIS group (Physicists for inclusion in Science) has been busy this year! The group fosters inclusion by providing an inclusive community, professional development opportunities, and mentorship for aspiring physicists. This year, their activities have included coffee breaks, mixers (including an amazing dinner and silent auction for the department), book clubs, and many outreach activities.  Check out all the fun at http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/phis/2018/05/07/physicists-inclusion-science-phis/ .  The 2018/19 elections have happened and the new PhIS leadership is: MacKenzie Lenz (President), Kelby Hahn (Vice President), Mike Vignal (Treasurer), Mattia Carbonara (Secretary).  They invite everyone to join!

Rebecca Grollman, Graham Founds, Rick Wallace and  Oksana Ostroverkhova’s paper “Simultaneous fluorescence and surface charge measurements on organic semiconductor-coated silica microspheres” has been featured by Advances in Engineering  as a key scientific article contributing to excellence in science and engineering research.  See

https://advanceseng.com/simultaneous-fluorescence-surface-charge-measurements/

for a short summary of the paper and a short video highlighting the result.

Zachary Free helps attendees understand the orbit of planets around the sun in the above picture (All photographs curtesy of Ikaika McFadden).

On Friday March 9th, the OSU Astronomy Club and the Department of physics held the first Astronomy Open House of 2018! The Astronomy Club under Emily Simpson, Rachel Hausmann, Samantha Carrothers, Nathanial Miller, Leon Linebarger, Tyler Parsotan and many dedicated volunteers invited OSU students, adults and children to Weniger Hall to have fun with hands on demonstrations that help explain how astrophysical phenomena work.

Emily Simpson helps attendees determine which scientist they are most like.

Some of the activities included a room dedicated to Mars landing sites, by Rachel Hausmann, an activity dedicated to the mythology behind constellations, by Samantha Carrothers, a test created by Emily Simpson to determine which historical scientist you would be. We also had a presentation on remote telescope observations by local astronomers Tom Carrico, a presentation on telescope tuning by Stephen McGettigan, and the OSU Robotics Club show off their Mars rover!

The OSU Robotics Club show off their rover in Rachel Hausmann’s Mars Landing Sites Room.
Astronomy Tom captivated the attendees with how easy it is to get amazing astronomy photographs.

Over 100 people attended the event and got a free NASA poster for completing each activity! While we weren’t able to have telescopes out for this event due to the weather, future events will have night observations; especially as the weather gets better and better here in Oregon. In order to hear about our next event like us on facebook.com/osuastronights. We hope to see you there!

Undergraduate volunteers from the Department of Physics took some of their favorite kid-friendly demonstrations to share with families at the annual Family Science Night at Franklin School, Corvallis, on January 25th. The demonstrations included exploding balloons in a vacuum chamber, the dielectric breakdown of air, target practice with a vortex cannon, rainbow effects with diffraction glasses and the department’s home made hover craft.  Many thanks to volunteers, Zack Colbert, Lincoln Worley, Mirek Brandt, Garrett Jepson, Hanna Hansen, and Mattia Carbonaro.

The work of OSU physics graduate student Lee Aspitarte was featured as a Scientific Highlight on the American Institute of Physics website. Lee’s recent experiments in Ethan Minot’s lab provide new insights about nanoscale pn-junctions. Nanoscale pn-junctions are a promising technology for maximizing the efficiency of light-to-electricity conversion.


This year’s winner of the WIC Culture of Writing Award in Physics is Jeremy Meinke, for his thesis entitled, “Single-Molecule Analysis of a Novel Kinesin Motor Protein.” Jeremy worked under the direction of Prof. Weihong Qiu.  He was with the Qiu research group for two years and in 2016, he received URISC and SURE awards to support his work. Jeremy says of the OSU Physics Department, “I enjoyed the range of physics topics the upper division classes offered, which kept me constantly thinking about new concepts.  Overall, it was a great place for me to study physics. I truly benefited from the research experience.”

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